Analysis: Despite its best efforts, the terror group ruling Gaza has difficulty hiding its desire to carry out prisoner exchange, now the global pandemic provides the organization a chance to drop its cast iron demand when it comes to releasing the its two Israelis captives and the bodies of two IDF soldiers

Hamas' leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar was freed during the 2011 prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit
Hamas’ leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar was freed during the 2011 prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit

Over the past few years, the Hamas terrorist organization has been trying hard to raise the issue of prisoners and missing persons with Israel, sparing no measure, no matter how vile or false, to do so.

The messages sent by Hamas has gone over the heads of most Israelis, mainly because most of the Israeli media has chosen – and rightly so – to ignore the terrorist organization’s overtures.

But Hamas did not give up, and in June it dispatched its military spokesman to declare in a dramatic speech that during the May 2019 escalation between Hamas and the IDF, Israselis bombs had harmed some of its own people held captive in Gaza. It failed, however, to provide further explanation about who had been hurt or how severely.

For a moment, let us put aside the important question of whether this was a case of psychological warfare or the truth. The fact is, Hamas issued this statement in the hope that it would spark discourse in Israel about the need to release prisoners and find missing persons – yet that hope was shattered.

The reasons for this are varied. Hamas has in its possession the bodies of two IDF soldiers, hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, and two civilians, Abra Mengistu and Hisham a-Syed.

The Israeli public is less emotionally connected to the captive civilians. Their families are not running an effective and aggressive campaign for their release – unlike the successful campaign orchestrated by the family of Naama Issachar who was jailed in Moscow for drug possession.

Abra Mengistu, and Hisham a-Side
Israelis Abra Mengistu, left, and Hisham a-Syed are being held by Hamas in Gaza (Photo: Courtesy)


The main reason, though, is that the Israeli public is still scarred by the consequences of the release of captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011, which resulted in the release of a large number of terrorists, whose activities are still being felt to this day.

But this time the tables are turned. Israel, despite its desire to see the captives brought home, is less inclined to negotiate for these reasons. Hamas also knows it does not have an ace up its sleeve in the form of a living soldier and has suddenly become impatient, trying as hard as it can to make a move.

Yet the coronavirus pandemic offers a rare window of opportunity for a deal that could resolve, at least in part, a painful and sensitive issue at a price both parties would find agreeable.

The health crisis offers Hamas a way down from the tree up which it climbed so many years ago.

Hamas is believed to holding the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin, left, and Oron Shaul, who fell in Gaza during the 2014 war
Hamas is believed to holding the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin, left, and Oron Shaul, who fell in Gaza during the 2014 war


For a long time, the terror group has had one condition in negotiations for a prisoner exchange – the release of several dozen Palestinians released in the Shalit deal and over the years rearrested by Israel.

The Defense Ministry vehemently refused this condition, and there were no real efforts to to end this impasse.

So, how do we get past the deadlock? From now on, Hamas shouldn’t behave as though it is trying to make a “deal”, but rather propose an “initiative” – and suddenly it is no longer a matter of “national security” but rather a “humanitarian” step.

Now, add to that “humanitarian initiative” the most frightening word in the world – coronavirus – and just like that Hamas could forfeit its demand for Israel to release the Shalit prisoners and still save face.

Despite its best efforts, Hamas is having difficulty in hiding its desire for a prisoner exchange with Israel. The organization has been sending out its senior members, from its leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar downwards, to ensure that Israel understands its willingness to be flexible.

Gilad Shalit returns to Israel in October 2011, after more than five years in Hamas captivity in Gaza
Gilad Shalit returns to Israel in October 2011 after more than five years in Hamas captivity in Gaza (Photo: Archive)


Hamas would also like to see a significant amount of medical equipment sent into Gaza to help fight the coronavirus in the event of a major outbreak – even at the cost of fewer released prisoners.

According to several sources, Hamas feels that Israel has not replied with seriousness to its many overtures.

When negotiating a prisoner exchange deal, we should primarily read between the lines – Hamas complaints about Israel’s lack of seriousness only reinforces Hamas’ own earnestness on the matter.

This, however, is not the real truth. Israel is seriously examining the feasibility of a deal and Hamas has received this message in recent days.

According to estimates by international sources, Hamas is seriously considering a deal that would see the release at least one of the two civilians held in the Gaza Strip in exchange for the release of elderly security and possibly women prisoners.

Meanwhile, sources familiar with the matter told Ynet that Hamas is under a lot of internal stress, something the organization is trying to hide from the public.

 Decontaminating Gaza's streets amid the coronavirus outbreak
Decontaminating Gaza’s streets amid the coronavirus outbreak (Photo: EPA)


Inside Israel’s prison, Palestinian prisoners are fighting among themselves to be included on the list of releases in a potential deal, causing additional strain on Hamas’ leadership both in Gaza and abroad.

For example, those responsible for the Hamas prisoner portfolio are Musa Dodin, who works from abroad and is close to the West Bank prisoners (he is originally from the Hebron area) and Rohi Mushta, Sinwar’s close friend, who works from the Gaza Strip and is in contact with the the families of prisoners from there.

Furthermore, Islamic Jihad also wants a piece of the piece and is adding to the pressure on Hamas.
All of these issues ultimately find their way to Yahya Sinwar – and that doesn’t make his job any easier.

But why should Israel make such a deal? The price would be significantly lower for Israel than in previous deals and as the Jewish state has a vested interest in thinning out its prison population during the coronavirus crisis.

There is a real concern that the spread of the virus inside security prisons could lead to international pressure on Israel for the release of Palestinian prisoners, sparking an escalation in violence across the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The window of opportunity is now open for a limited time. The conclusion of the coronavirus crisis will significantly reduce the chances of an exchange being completed. And in order to reach a deal, both Gaza and Jerusalem will have to deal with quite a few internal political pressures.

As reported by Ynetnews